Focus on the Family Still Defending Contemplative Prayer

Recently a long-time financial supporter of Focus on the Family decided he could no longer donate to the organization because it supports and promotes contemplative prayer and its proponents like Richard Foster and Gary Thomas. So he wrote to Focus to explain why.  He got a response, which he shared with Lighthouse Trails Research:

Dear Friend: Thank you for writing to Focus on the Family.  It was good of you to contact us with your candid concerns about our ministry’s involvement with what has sometimes been called “contemplative prayer.”  Thoughtful, honest feedback like yours is always welcome here at Focus headquarters.  We’re happy to have this opportunity to respond to the thoughts you’ve shared.

While we appreciate your input, we also feel bound to inform you that you are mistaken on a couple of different fronts.  To begin with, your assertion that Focus on the Family is “promoting” contemplative prayer and spirituality is neither fair nor accurate.  Yes, we have occasionally referenced speakers and authors who deal with subjects of this nature – individuals such as Richard Foster, Larry Crabb, and Beth Moore.  But none of this, in our opinion, amounts to “promoting” contemplative prayer.  The truth of the matter is that we have far too much else on our plate to become involved in any such activity.  The heart of our outreach is practical family ministry.

That said, we also find it hard to understand why any particular method of prayer should be regarded as “a dangerous deviation from sound Bible practices.”  After all, there are probably as many different ways of praying as there are people offering prayers.  Besides, there is nothing unbiblical or anti-Christian about solitude, silence, and contemplation.  Far from it!  After all, it was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire that the Lord spoke to Elijah, but rather in the “still, small voice” of intimate, personal communion (1 Kings 19:12) [see our note below on 1 Kings 19:12*].  David highlights the value of this type of spiritual discipline in Psalm 4:4, where he writes, “Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.”  Another Psalmist similarly represents the Lord as exhorting His people to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  And Jesus Himself, who lived and breathed the Old Testament Scriptures, often retired to quiet, secluded spots in the wilderness or on the mountain where He could converse with His Father apart from the noise and distraction of the crowd (see Mark 1:35).  In time, His disciples learned to follow His example in this regard.

On the basis of this firm biblical foundation, a strong tradition of Christian contemplation and mysticism has grown up within the church over the past 2,000 years – a tradition that has nothing whatsoever to do with “dangerous” New Age spirituality.  Many of the early church fathers of the first three centuries of the Christian era – men like Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, John Chrysostom, and Anthony of Egypt – were contemplatives who had mystical experiences in prayer.  It is even possible to trace this strain of spirituality to the apostles themselves:  Peter, for example, who saw visions on the roof of the house of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10:9-16), or Paul, who speaks of having been “caught up to the third heaven” where he “heard inexpressible words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), or John, whose encounter with the risen Christ while “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” gave us the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:9).[see "Does God Sanction Mystical Experiences?"]  In our view, it’s not the form or style of such experiences, nor the methods or techniques of prayer that precede them, that should determine their legitimacy, but rather their content and the degree to which they either do or do not bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. [See our article on Intent.]

We hope this reply has clarified our perspective for you.  Thanks again for caring enough to contact us.  Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance.  God bless you.

Timothy Masters

Focus on the Family

LTRP Notes:

* The following explanation about I Kings 19:12 is from Ray Yungen’s book, A Time of Departing.

Question: Isn’t I Kings 19:12 an example of when contemplative prayer is condoned in Scripture? Elijah heard a “still, small voice.” Isn’t that referring to the silence?

Answer:This passage in no way indicates that Elijah was practicing a mantra exercise. On the contrary, it was the prophets of Baal who “called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us!” (I Kings 18:26). Now Elijah was in a cave, not to practice contemplative prayer, but to hide from Jezebel’s threat to take his life. Also, his encounter with God was something he did not initiate but God initiated Himself, thereby emphasizing that Elijah was not practicing a mantra. If anything, from his conversation with God, we might conclude that he was also hiding from his ministry and God Himself, as he was feeling hopeless.

Related Stories:

Letter from Focus on the Family: Takes Lighthouse Trails with a “healthy dose of salt” & defends contemplative Gary Thomas

Letter to Editor: Does Beth Moore Still Promote Contemplative Prayer?

Serious Concerns for Focus on the Family Marriage Conference

From the Lighthouse BlogSix Years Later – Focus on the Family Still Defending Contemplative Prayer